Researchers mobilise to combat antimicrobial resistance

May 16, 2022

How to prevent bacterial infections and reduce the need for antibiotics? Researchers from Wageningen University & Research, universities in Denmark and the United States are joining forces in a new project: PIG-PARADIGM. The Novo Nordisk Foundation is funding the project with 20.1 million euros.

Third leading cause of death

Worldwide antibiotic use is increasing, which is a major driver of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The WHO predicts that in just 30 years antimicrobial resistance will become the third leading cause of death globally. Pig production is a major, global consumer of antibiotics. In the new project extensive data - collected from studying pigs - will be analysed in detail by the researchers in Wageningen, Denmark - Aarhus University, University of Copenhagen and Aalborg University - and the University of California, Davis, in the United States. The collaboration across institutions and borders will bring together the necessary expertise, technologies and animal studies to find new solutions to this problem.

Research on pig intestines will save people’s lives

Like humans, pigs develop a complex intestinal microbiome shortly after birth. However, many piglets get diarrhoea at weaning, when they are separated from the sow and adapt to a new environment and a new diet. At this time, piglets become vulnerable to enteric infections which require the use of antibiotics to prevent disease transmission, and the suffering and death of piglets.

“In PIG-PARADIGM, we will gather knowledge about how to increase the pigs’ natural defences and immunity in the gut. If this can be improved, the incidence of diarrhoeal diseases can be reduced and thus the need for antibiotics,” says the coordinator, Charlotte Lauridsen, Professor and Head of the Department of Animal Science at Aarhus University.

Background information

Antibiotics are used to treat or prevent some types of bacterial infection, for example in the airways or digestive tract of humans and pigs. However, the current overuse of antibiotics leads to bacteria developing resistance and thus creating a lack of antibiotic efficacy and, worst case, a complete lack of therapeutic options to treat bacterial infections. Currently, more than 700,000 people die each year from infections that are resistant to most, or all antibiotics, and the number is increasing. New approaches to prevent common infections can help reduce the need for antibiotics and reduce the spread of antibiotic resistance.

Development of immunity

Antibiotics are designed to kill or reduce the growth of the bacteria that make pigs sick, but they can also eliminate the natural intestinal microbiome, which is important for development of immunity in early life. In PIG-PARADIGM, the researchers will investigate how members of the intestinal microbiome, including bacteria, fungi, archaea and viruses, interact and whether changes in dietary composition or the environment can affect the intestinal microbiome so that less antibiotics are required and thereby that antimicrobial resistance is avoided.

Different expertise combined

In PIG-PARADIGM, Hauke Smidt, Personal Chair at the Laboratory of Microbiology and Scientific Director of the UNLOCK Research Infrastructure at WUR, joins forces with researchers at Host-Microbe Interactomics, Systems and Synthetic Biology and Wageningen Livestock Research.

Smidt: “This exciting project with its unique combination of expertise opens up entirely new perspectives for us to decipher the interactions of the developing pig, its diet and its intestinal microbiome, and to turn that knowledge into new strategies for healthier pigs.”

About the PIG-PARADIGM project

  • The project is called Preventing Infection in the Gut of developing Piglets – and thus Antimicrobial Resistance – by disent Angling the interface of DIet, the host and the Gastrointestinal Microbiome (PIG-PARADIGM).
  • The duration of the project is five years: from 2022 to 2027.
  • The Novo Nordisk Foundation is enabling the research with a grant of DKK 150 million.
  • The five key collaborators in the project are Wageningen University & Research, Aarhus University, the University of Copenhagen and Aalborg University in Denmark, and the University of California, Davis in the United States.